When you walk up to the doors of School of Rock in Chapel Hill, the first thing that you’ll see is a smashed guitar. Hanging on by just a few pieces of wire and sheer determination, it proudly welcomes you to the establishment. It is the last of four guitars that were smashed at the grand opening of School of Rock two years ago. The other three lie somewhere in the boneyard, as sacrifices to the craft of Rock n’ Roll.
As you open the doors, you’re transported into an old rock n’ roll diner, complete with booths and a walk up bar. Posters signed by young and hopeful future rockstars line the walls, all boasting past shows and sweet memories. As I walk in to begin the interview with the owner, David Joseph, I am invited to sign the bathroom wall, which is a tradition for newcomers. As a massive fan of the 2003 Jack Black film ‘School of Rock,’ I decided to write, “Stick it to the man” with a hot pink sharpie. It quickly becomes obvious to me that this isn’t your everyday school of music.
School of Rock is a music school which teaches students how to play as a team. Much like the aforementioned 2003 Jack Black film, students create a rock band together to learn how to play music. The lessons consist of one private one-on-one lesson, and one band practice per week, to give students, as Joseph puts it, “ the good stuff, and then the broccoli and potatoes.”
Students range in age from 6-19, and are sectioned off by ability and interest. The beginners go into rookie lessons, where they can try out several different instruments to figure out where their interests lie. Once they’ve got their instrument and a little bit of experience, they upgrade to Rock 101. These students age from 8-13, and learn the meat and potatoes of playing music. Upon completion of Rock 101, they can enter the Performance Program, where they will have the opportunity to play on stage.
If you happened to catch School of Rock’s mind-blowing set last fall, you may not see the same kids playing this year. The traveling group that will be coming to rock the grounds of Shakori Hills are called the House Band, where students can be a “gigging musician in [their] community.” These students alternate based on talent, time-commitment, and of course aging in and out of the program. This year’s official House Band will be chosen in August from the nearly 200 students currently enrolled in School of Rock.
Until then, students will be honing their talents with a variety of showcases. Just recently, the House Band came back from a 6-city tour where they played alongside kids from other Schools of Rock around the Tarheel State. In the coming weeks, they will be performing pieces by some of the greats, such as Elton John, Led Zeppelin, David Bowie and Heart. They will also perform with the School of Rock AllStars, which is comprised of the top 1% School of Rock’s students internationally.
Yet, for the students of School of Rock, it’s not all about becoming the next David Bowie, at least not entirely. It’s about the community created within the school. Students come early and stay late to spend time with their bandmates, and many of these connections last long after the bands have gone their separate ways. Once they’ve aged out of the program, many of these students come back to teach, and thus the cycle begins again.
For School of Rock Chapel Hill owner, David Joseph, it’s the community aspect of School of Rock that really makes it worth doing. The most important part about the organization is its contribution to the community. From the community created in practice rooms, to the greater Chapel Hill-Carrboro community, it’s these connections that are the very foundation of School of Rock’s mission. In fact, this community-based environment was recognized by the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber of Commerce who named School of Rock Chapel Hill the 2019 New Business of the Year.
Previously, the school has auctioned off free months of lessons in schools throughout Carrboro and Chapel Hill, a donation which only becomes more important as school music programs are becoming increasingly defunded. Recently, the organization has partnered with the Ronald McDonald foundation to sponsor a room for one year. Joseph plans to continue to do this as long as he can.
Joseph said, “From day one, I felt that it was important to give back to the community. Anything that helps kids, [brings] a little joy to people’s lives, [shares] the healing power of music, I want to support.”
Come and learn with the School of Rock when they perform this fall at Shakori Hills, and check out their showcases and class information on their website, www.locations.schoolofrock.com/chapelhill.
If you happen to be in Chapel Hill during rush hour traffic, drive by the School of Rock itself. You might just get to hear their latest gig, if the garage door is open, or be invited to sign the bathroom wall.